Ten Ways “Grown-up” Christians Can Set a Better Example for Gen Z on Social Media
Dear Christians on Social Media, Gen Z is watching. Be careful what and how you post.
The unending scroll of images, ideas, and interactions are transforming the hearts and minds of Gen Z.
Gen Z–today’s teenagers and the generation after Millenials–is on their screens all the time. Our recent study on Gen Z with the Barna Group confirms they are screenagers.
With 57% of today’s teenagers using screens 4+ hours a day and 26% report looking at a screen eight or more hours on an average day, it is beyond question that they are being shaped in profound ways (President of the Barna Group David Kinnaman and I discuss this on a podcast here).
Gen Z is being discipled by their smartphones. The unending scroll of images, ideas, and interactions are transforming their hearts and minds. Their worldview is being altered with every swipe, like, and share.
What is Gen Z Learning By Watching Christians on Social Media?
The fact of the matter is that discipleship is happening all the time online. The question I want to ask here is what is Gen Z learning by watching “grown-up” Christians on Social Media?
What are the behaviors being modeled for the next generation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram? Here are some of my observations:
- Be reactionary.
- Be snarky.
- Make hasty assumptions without all–or even some–of the facts.
- Don’t think critically, just feel.
- Demonize the opposition.
I am not surprised when I see non-Christians conduct themselves online this way, but as followers of Jesus, we must do better.
God’s Word offers a better way. Paul puts a fine point on it when he writes:
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”–Col. 4:5-6
There is a lot to learn here. Be wise. Be intentional. Be gracious. Be aware of the context and what people in that moment need.
How can we expect the next generation to be wise and gracious online when we are not willing to lead the way?
Another challenging passage from the Bible that should guide our online interactions is from the book of Ephesians:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”–Eph. 4:29
Be helpful. Build up. Think of others. Lot’s to apply here too!
How Can Christians Set a Better Example for Gen Z on Social Media?
In light of these two passages, how can we set a better example for Gen Z on Social Media? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start!
- Am I building up or tearing down with this?
- Do I have all of the facts? Or at least enough of them to make a reasonable judgment here?
- Have I tried to understand the other person’s point of view?
- Am I attacking the person when I should be critiquing their ideas?
- Just because something is trending doesn’t mean I must comment, retweet, like, or share.
- History and culture are complicated, have I oversimplified the issue/topic to more easily marginalize someone who doesn’t share my point of view?
- If I was sitting across from this person would I say what I just said online?
- Is what I am about to post helpful at this time? (some things don’t need to be said at certain times)
- Am I being gracious in how I am saying what I am saying?
- How can I leverage this moment to influence others toward Jesus and the way of life he offers?
Social media can be a powerful tool of influence but it can also be a devastating weapon. As Christians, we need to be careful how we steward our online interactions.
Gen Z has amazing potential for good, let’s do the hard work to disciple them in every area of life. And since they spend a good amount of their young lives online, let’s start there.
Afterall, how can we expect the next generation to be wise and gracious online when we are not willing to lead the way?
Gen Z: Vol 1 | Understand the Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping Today’s Teenagers
This study is a snapshot of the ways Gen Z sees the world and the culture. Who is Gen Z? What are their assumptions and values? What is shaping them? How can we better equip them, reach them and help them follow Jesus with confidence in this culture?
“Gen Z was born between 1999 and 2015. Most of them are in their teens and childhood years. Gen Z is the second-largest generation alive today. In the U.S. there are 69 million of them, compared to 66 million Millennials, 55 million Gen Xers, and 76 million Boomers. The parents of Gen Z are Gen X and Millennials. They are the most ethnically diverse generation alive today, and they have, for better and worse, grown up with technology at their fingertips. The smartphone was invented before most of them were even born.
These are the basic facts about Gen Z, but we wanted to go deeper. We wanted to know how this new generation thinks, how they perceive the world and themselves. So we went straight to the source. We interviewed 13– to 18-year-olds in a multi-pronged, multi-month survey. First, the qualitative stage. We interviewed individual 13– to 18-year-olds about their lives, beliefs, activities. Then we took the results from those interviews and developed a questionnaire for a nationally representative sample of 1,490 13– to 18-year-olds. We asked them about their faith, home lives, friendships, social activities, media and technology habits, goals for life, political beliefs, even their ideas on gender.
Available for Purchase
Gen Z: Vol. 2 | Caring for Young Souls and Cultivating Resilience
This report is an in-depth exploration of Generation Z’s emotional lives, their relationship with technology, and their impulses toward and habits of faith. In partnership with Barna and Impact 360 Institute, this 80+ page report features new and original research, thoughtful perspectives from ministry leaders, discussion questions and reflection application for the leaders of Gen Z, and much more.
Available for Purchase:
Know. Be. Live.®: A 360 Degree Approach to Discipleship in a Post-Christian Era
Know. Be. Live.® is a groundbreaking work that addresses cultural challenges and potential solutions to making disciples in Gen Z.
Over the last few years, the literature on Generation Z has grown rapidly. However, there is little that directly addresses the destructive cultural challenges to proactive disciplemaking in this generation. Know. Be. Live.® offers a holistic 360-degree approach to discipleship in a post-Christian era. It combines expert thought on faith and culture to equip Christ-following parents of teenagers, college students, campus ministers, and pastors.
Addressing the obstacles to deep discipleship and spiritual formation within Gen Z, Know. Be. Live.® approaches this subject matter from a comprehensive biblical perspective that ties together the intellectual (Know), character (Be), and calling (Live) elements of discipleship.
Contributors: Philip Alsup, John Basie, Hunter Baker, Ed and Dana Bort, Stephanie Shackelford, Gene Fant, Nathan Finn, Melissa Pellew, Sean McDowell, J. P. Moreland, Jonathan Morrow, Jacob Shatzer, John Stonestreet, Kyle Strobel, and John W. White III.